HC Deb 10 August 1894 vol 28 cc636-46

Bill considered in the Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1.

*SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.) moved, in page 1, line 5, after "have," insert "either alone or jointly with any other Railway Company or Companies." The clause as it stood enabled traders to have excessive rates, but in the case of a single Company only, remedied by an appeal to the Railway Commissioners. But as through rates were even more important, the object of the Amendment was to provide that the power of revision should extend to a rate made by or on behalf of two or more Companies jointly, as well as to a rate made by a single Company. The Bill was not all that might be desired; but as it might be made the basis of future useful reforms, he would not waste a single word at that hour of the night in delaying its progress through Committee. He would, therefore, content himself with moving the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 5, after the word "have," to insert the words "either alone or jointly with any other Railway Company or Companies."—(Sir A. Rollit.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


Like my hon. Friend, I do not desire to waste any time. I will therefore only say that this Amendment is a reasonable and a proper one, and I am glad to accept it.

Question put, and agreed to.

*SIR A. ROLLIT moved to insert, in page 1, line 6, after "ninety-two," the words "directly or indirectly." He said that the object of the Amendment was specially to meet two classes of cases. The first was that in which the rate was indirectly increased by the Company ceasing to carry a large customary quantity, say 21 cwt. to the ton, and only carrying 20 cwt. The second was that in which onerous conditions were imposed in owners'-risk notes, amounting sometimes pecuniarily to, say, 10 per cent. by way of extra insurance. His words, if inserted, would secure that the rates in those two instances should not be excessive but reasonable.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 6, after the words "ninety-two," to insert the words "directly or indirectly."—(Sir A. Rollit.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


We accept the Amendment.

Question put, and agreed to.

MR. D. PLUNKET (Dublin University) moved, in page 1, line 9, after "the," to insert "increase of the." It was a verbal Amendment with the object of clearing up the meaning of the clause, which was admitted on all hands to be obscure. Different constructions had been put upon the words of the clause, as they stood, by high legal authorities; and the Amendment, which had been agreed to by both sides in the controversy, would give effect to the intention of the Report of the Committee on which the Bill was founded.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 9, after the words "the," to insert the words "increase of the."—(Mr. D. Plunket.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

* MR. BURNIE (Swansea, Town)

said, he regretted that he must oppose the Amendment. He thought the Bill ought to be allowed to remain in the form in which it was presented to the House. The object of the Amendment was to prohibit traders from challenging the reasonableness of any rate, and limiting them to the right to appeal only against the increase of the rate since December 31, 1892. The Committee should bear in mind that when, in January, 1893, the Railway Companies increased their rates, an agitation sprang up throughout the length and breadth of the country in consequence of the injury to trade and agriculture brought about by the increased rates. A Select Committee, of which he had had the privilege of being a Member, sat for some mouths considering the subject; and the whole of the evidence laid before that Committee on behalf of the traders and agriculturists was in favour of having restored to them what they lost by the Act of 1888. When that Act was passed and the Provisional Orders which followed it came into force the traders found that they had not only been mulcted with the legalisation of terminal charges, but had been deprived of one of their most important defences against extravagant rates—namely, their right to challenge the whole of the rates of the Railway Companies on the ground of unreasonableness. By leaving the Bill as the Government introduced it the traders would be restored to their old position with respect to any rates increased by the Railway Companies after 1892, because they would have the opportunity of challenging the reasonableness of the whole of such rates, and not merely the increases in them. He regretted the hon. Member for Northamptonshire had withdrawn his earlier Amendments, the object of which was to put the traders on this point into the position which they occupied before the Acts of 1888. He asked hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to use their efforts to restore to the traders this right, which, with other valuable privileges, the traders lost by the legislation of the late Government. If the Amendment were carried it would spoil any good that was in the Bill; the traders would look upon the Bill as of no value at all. What would happen, if the Bill passed amended in that way, was that a newer and a stronger struggle on the part of the traders against the railway rates would arise, for it was impossible that the traders could sit down quietly under such a Bill.

* MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)

said, that though he agreed with some of the remarks of the last speaker, he should certainly under the circumstances counsel the acceptance of the Amendment. From the point of view of the traders this Bill could only be accepted as an instalment of justice. He agreed that the traders had a right to expect that the Government would have taken steps to restore to them the right which was inadvertently lost by the Act of 1888—namely, the right to attack all rates with regard to reasonableness. But it was quite clear, he thought, that if they attempted to find a remedy for all the evils that traders suffered from, it would be impossible to get a Bill on this subject through the House this Session; and the question for the traders and for the House was whether they would accept an imperfect Bill or none at all. The interpretation of the Bill as framed would, he thought, be of an uncertain character, and it was of doubtful advantage to the traders to give them a clause of uncertain meaning. At the same time, it must be admitted that the Amendment proposed to put the Railway Companies' interpretation upon the ambiguous words of the clause. He thought, however, that under the circumstances the traders ought to be advised to accept the Bill, lame and halting though it was with the suggested Amendment. The Railway Companies had got their heels upon the traders. Many traders thought the country had kept back the difference between the rates of 1892 and 1893, and there was no doubt that if some relief was not given they would have the Railway Companies pressing for the extra amount of rates. That was a hardship to which it would not be wise to leave the traders exposed; and he thought, therefore, it was better to accept the Bill even with the Amendment, recording at the same time a protest against its insufficiency.

* MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

said, that although he agreed with many of the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Preston, he rather supported the view of the previous speaker, his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea Town. He wished at once to say that some of the remarks which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University did not quite accurately represent the position taken up by some Members, including himself, who had taken part in the conferences with the Railway Companies and the Board of Trade on this question. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would bear him out in saying that at the conference which took place between the representatives of the traders and the Railway Companies he expressly disclaimed acceptance of this Amendment, and he disclaimed acceptance of it at the private meeting of traders which considered the matter. He regretted that the Government had not afforded time to discuss the present Bill fairly, and in such a way that the issues involved in the Amendment could be thoroughly threshed out before the House. He did not think anyone could doubt that the Amendment, which was a concession to the Railway Companies, would have been rejected, by the House by a considerable majority if the House had time to deal with it. But the House was now in the position that it could not reject the Bill as it stood. Undoubtedly there was a feeling amongst many classes of traders in the country as to the risk of pressure from the Railway Companies with regard to outstanding accounts. Personally, he thought that alarm a delusion. He believed that if the traders only showed fight and a determination to see the matter out with the Railway Companies, the Companies would not venture to press their claims, and a very much stronger Bill might be passed next year. But confining himself strictly to the Amendment, his objection to it was that, as everyone on the Committee last year must know, the whole argument of the Railway Companies seemed to be the argument of recoupment. Therefore, if the functions of the Railway Commissioners were limited to increases in rates added since 1892, the Railway Companies would be in the position to go before the Commissioners and argue that, because certain rates had been cut down, they had a right to make increases in other rates. That would place the traders in a most serious position, because they would be precluded from dealing fully with the question of increases and how they arose, and the power to obtain the analysis of a rate would help little if there was no jurisdiction as to the whole of the rate and its component parts. He objected to the Amendment, as he objected to the whole of the first clause, because it seemed to him that it most effectually sanctioned the rates of 1892. The position of the traders all along was, that a very large proportion of those rates were not reasonable, and ought to be altered; and the Commissioners should be in a position to deal fully with those rates. To say that the rates prevailing before 1892 were unchallengable was most unfair to the traders. It was a very serious blunder; and a blunder which the Government might have to rectify in the near future.


said, that some of the Irish Railway Companies went on increasing many of their rates to an enormous extent, and gave as a justification for doing so the fact that, the Bill of 1892 having cut down some of their charges, they were obliged to increase those that did not come within the scope of this Bill so as to compensate for the reduction. Practically, therefore, the Bill of 1892 was inoperative. He did not see what was the use of introducing Amendments which they had really no time to consider, and he would as soon have no Bill at all as have one that was cut about in that way, and practically valueless. Those who wished to see railway rates reduced had better make up their minds to have the Bill, and nothing but the Bill.


said, he joined in the regret expressed by the lion. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing), that the House had not had more time to deal with the Bill. He should have been glad, and the Government would have been glad, if it had been possible to give a little longer time to the measure, but in their difficult position they had had to consider whether it would not be better to pass such a measure as it was possible to pass rather than allow the matter to stand over altogether for another year. The hon. and gallant Member for Galway had had considerable experience in these matters, and had formed a pretty sound estimate of the situation. He knew that looking for the Bill of next year was like looking for the snow of last winter. The bird they had in the hand now might be a small one, but it was better than the bird in the bush of next year. Still, it would not be to the benefit of the traders of the country that they should pass a measure of uncertain construction, and unless it was cleared up in certain particulars by Amendments, a great deal of litigation would result. When the principal Amendments on the Paper had been added, the Bill would be found a very useful measure. It must be remembered that it was limited in its application, and would not deal with those rates that were already reduced by the Act of 1892. It, however, would give the Railway Commissioners the powers they required to enable them to reduce the rates, which had been increased since 1892. He did not think the Commissioners would go behind the Act of 1892 unless in very exceptional cases, which would be few in number. The Bill was founded on the Report of the Committee of last year, which spoke about increase of rates, and did not go beyond that. It was brought in by his predecessor to carry out the Report of the Committee of 1892, therefore he thought it would be difficult for the House to refuse now to adhere to the principle of that Report. The Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for the University of Dublin was one which did not suit everybody, but was accepted by a large number of representative traders. The Amendment before them was the same as one he had himself placed upon the Paper. He had, before giving notice of it, consulted with those who were in a position to give the best advice on the subject, and it was with the approval of the Chairman of the Mansion House Committee that he had decided to move. The arrangement made was only for the present year. The Companies and the traders had waived objection. Both sides had made concessions, and were agreed that the subject should be gone into fully in some future year. He trusted they would not be put to the trouble of a Division.


said, he knew what was the opinion of the Chairman of the Mansion House Association. He only supported the Bill at all so far as holding that it was better than nothing at all. It was not the fact that they were satisfied with the measure, because they were dissatisfied with it; nor that they thought they had been dealt with fairly, because they considered that they had been dealt with very unfairly. He thought that such an important question as this should have received more attention at the hands of the Government, and not have been brought on at the extreme end of the Session. It was only because on the balance of advantages that they agreed to the passing of the Bill, considering it better to take what they could get at the present moment than leave the whole thing open.

Question put.

The Committee divided: —Ayes 72;

Noes 32.—(Division List, No. 229.)


said, he wished to move an Amendment to compel Companies to supply the public with information as to the standard rates of 1892, which were made the basis of rates by the Bill.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 12, at the end, add— (2) Under and subject to any Regulations which may be made by the Board of Trade, every Railway Company shall keep the books, schedules, or other papers specifying all the rates, charges, and conditions of transport in use upon such railway on the 31st day of December, 1892, open for inspection at its head office, and shall upon demand supply copies of or extracts from such books, schedules, and papers."—(Sir A. Rollit.)

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.


said, he would move an Amendment the object of which was to provide that a trader who desired to challenge the reasonableness of an increase of rate made by a Railway Company Shall, before or within 14 days after filing his complaint, pay to the Railway Company such sum in respect of any rate or charge complained of as would have been payable by him to them bad the rate or charge in force previous to the increase remained in force. The clause went on to say— Any dispute as to the amount so payable shall be decided by the Registrar or in such other mode as the Court or the said ex officio member thereof may order, but such payment or decision shall be without prejudice to any order of the Court upon the complaint. Amendment proposed, in page 1, after line 17, to insert— (4) Unless the Court shall otherwise order, a complainant to the Railway and Canal Commissioners under this section shall, before or within 14 days after filing Ins complaint, pay to the Railway Company such sum in respect of any rates complained of as would have been payable by him to them had the rates charged on the last day of December, 1892, remained in force; any dispute as to the amount so payable shall be decided by the Registrar, but such payment or decision shall be without prejudice to any order of the Court upon the complaint."—{Mr. I). Plunket.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, the principle of the Amendment was fair, and he hoped it would be accepted. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade how a case of this kind would be dealt with. There were, as they all knew, many special rates, and in the case of a rate duly entered on the books under the 14th section of the Act of 1873, would the trader be required to pay into Court more than the special rate or the full ordinary rate of 1892?


said, the wording of the Amendment would not do. Instead of the word "rates" the words "rates or charges" should be used, as in the rest of the Bill. Then the right hon. Gentleman proposed that the rate as it stood before the last day of December, 1892, should be paid. It was perfectly obvious that that would not apply to cases of future increases of rates, as the rates might have been lowered.


said, he would move an Amendment which would come earlier, to the effect that instead of the unfor- tunate trader having to pay the rate within the fixed time of 14 days, the Judge might at any time after the filing of the complaint order the payment of such sum as would have been payable had the rates charged at the end of 1892 remained in force. If this were not done the Companies having a bad case might defeat the case of the complainant on the technical ground that ho had not paid within the prescribed 14 days the exact amount due to the Company. It would often be difficult to say what the 1892 rate was. Traders might not have sent goods in 1892, or there might, be a rebate to which they were entitled which might or might not be allowed.

Amendments proposed to the proposed Amendment, in line 1, to leave out from "(4)," to "any dispute," in line 6, and insert— The Court, or the Judge who is the ex officio member thereof, may at any time after the tiling of a complaint under this section order the complainant to pay to the Railway Company such sum in respect of any rates complained of as would have been payable by him to the Railway Company had the rates charged on the last day of December, 1892, remained in force.

Line 7, after "Registrar," insert— or in such other mode as the Court or the said ex officio member thereof may order."—{Mr. Dodd.)

Question proposed, "That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment."


said, there was no more debateable matter on the Paper except this. The Amendment could scarcely be disposed of to-night; therefore, he would suggest that it should be now withdrawn and taken on Report, so that the Bill could pass its present stage tonight.


said, he would undertake on the part of the Railway Companies to accept the second part of the Amendment if the words "who is ex officio member thereof" were omitted.


said, the Government would accept the second part of the Amendment if the first part were withdrawn.


said, he would follow the course suggested.

Amendments to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments proposed to the proposed Amendment, after the word "rates," in lines 4 and 5, to insert the words "rates and charges."

Amendments agreed to.

It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.

Committee report Progress.

House resumed.


I would ask that the House should again resolve itself into Committee for the purpose of disposing of I am remaining Amendments, which are not controversial, and which will only occupy us live minutes.


I must object to the proposal on the ground that it would set a most dangerous precedent. If the right lion. Gentleman will put the Bill down as the second Order on Monday it will be disposed of in half an hour.

Committee to sit again upon Monday next.